Sam Harris

Sam Harris: Can we live meaningful lives without religion?

 

From Sam Harris
Excerpt Transcribed from Podcast Ask Me Anything #8
[Lightly Edited]

I continue to hear from people who have lost their religion and are powerfully relieved to have lost it. I’m really vividly in touch with [that] it is possible to lose one’s faith and to feel relieved of a problem rather than to be thrust into a new problem. For most faiths, people are spending a lot of their time thinking about unpleasant things like hell and sin. There is a tremendous amount of fear, and a tremendous amount of guilt and inner conflict. As Hitch used to say, you’re born sick and commanded to be well by religion — a fairly untenable situation for most people even if they don’t acknowledge it.

So for all the people that you may feel have lost their moorings, or never found them due to the absence of religion, there are those who have finally recognized how valuable their lives are… really the one life they know they have. Now they are newly in touch with that. Once you shed the fantasy life that is encouraged by religion… once you cease to be otherworldly, then you recognize that your life if not a rehearsal… it’s not a way station… it’s not something to be casually sacrificed for a fantasy of a world to come. It is your life in this moment that is profound. This universe, the only universe you can know, is the appropriate object of your awe… not some old book that tells you how to sacrifice goats.

Now this universe is a mystery, and it’s a beautiful one. And what is neither mysterious nor beautiful are the instructions for living that you will find in books like the Bible and Koran. So I don’t worry too much about arguing the case for reason, which is the case against faith. But I do worry about the problem of living a meaningful life… and about how people’s uncertainty of how to do that leads to unhappiness and worse.

I think I said in The End of Faith that for me it boils down to love and curiosity. I think that does cover it. Obviously you need love. If you don’t love someone in your life, perhaps not everyone, but surely someone, then you are missing something. You’re missing one of the main things that makes life good. So life without love is a problem.

Sam Harris on Trump…

 

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Excerpted and Transcribed from Sam Harris podcast

As many of you know, I have come out strongly against Trump and tepidly for Clinton, and there are many questions about why I haven’t come out for a third party candidate. The reason is that to vote for anyone other than Clinton is to increase the likelihood that we will have President Trump… and I believe that would be potentially catastrophic. Many people have criticized me for my rejection of Trump and my support for Clinton, but unfortunately this criticism never makes much sense.

I’ve been very clear about describing Clinton as the lesser of two evils. There is a ton to say about why she is not a great candidate. I totally understand why some people don’t like her and don’t trust her, but even with all her problems, she will probably be a competent President. In fact, I think she stands the chance of being a good President because she is actually smart and well informed and reasonably concerned about not destroying the world. And that’s true even with all the stupid lies and mistakes trailing behind her. Yes, there is something fairly rapacious and opportunistic about both Clintons. But their vices are mostly aligned with reasonable policies. There are exceptions but I think this is generally true. And, most crucially they are not idiots or ignoramuses.

Sam Harris Answers Charges of Islamophobia and Other Distortions of His Views…

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From Sam Harris
Version 2.4 (June 21, 2014)

A few of the subjects I explore in my work have inspired an unusual amount of controversy. Some of this results from real differences of opinion or honest confusion, but much of it is due to the fact that certain of my detractors deliberately misrepresent my views. The purpose of this article is to address the most consequential of these distortions.

A general point about the mechanics of defamation: It is impossible to effectively defend oneself against unethical critics. If nothing else, the law of entropy is on their side, because it will always be easier to make a mess than to clean it up. It is, for instance, easier to call a person a “racist,” a “bigot,” a “misogynist,” etc. than it is for one’s target to prove that he isn’t any of these things. In fact, the very act of defending himself against such accusations quickly becomes debasing. Whether or not the original charges can be made to stick, the victim immediately seems thin-skinned and overly concerned about his reputation. And, rebutted or not, the original charges will be repeated in blogs and comment threads, and many readers will assume that where there’s smoke, there must be fire.

Such defamation is made all the easier if one writes and speaks on extremely controversial topics and with a philosopher’s penchant for describing the corner cases—the ticking time bomb, the perfect weapon, the magic wand, the mind-reading machine, etc.—in search of conceptual clarity. It literally becomes child’s play to find quotations that make the author look morally suspect, even depraved.

Sam Harris Responds (again) on Lawrence O’Donnell…


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Can Liberalism Be Saved From Itself?

From SAM HARRIS

My recent collision with Ben Affleck on Bill Maher’s show, Real Time, has provoked an extraordinary amount of controversy. It seems a postmortem is in order.

For those who haven’t seen the show, most of what I write here won’t make sense unless you watch my segment above:

So what happened there?

I admit that I was a little thrown by Affleck’s animosity. I don’t know where it came from, because we hadn’t met before I joined the panel. And it was clear from our conversation after the show that he is totally unfamiliar with my work. I suspect that among his handlers there is a fan of Glenn Greenwald who prepared him for his appearance by simply telling him that I am a racist and a warmonger.

Everything You and I Think is Pretty Much Horseshit…

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From Godless Mom

It’s one thing to say you’re a skeptic. It’s another to understand fully that we need to be, because nothing in this world, not even your own memories, are as they seem. Our minds and our motivations and our behaviour can all be quite dark, no matter how sure you are that you’re a decent person. I read these two books during my prison binge reading phase, and they double-handedly changed the way I look at the entire human race. We are slaves to our synapses, the sum total of what we believe and belief, well… belief just has no basis in fact. That means, basically put, everything you and I think… is pretty much horseshit.

The two books I’m talking about are The Wrong Men by Stanley Cohen and Twisted Confessions: The True Story Behind The Kitty Genovese And Barbara Kralik Murder Trials.

In light of reading Sam Harris’ new book, Waking Up, I was reminded of these two books because they were so brutally unsettling to me. Sam’s book talks about how little we know about human consciousness and asks the question, is what we know, really what we know?

If you supplement Sam’s book with these two books, you’ll answer that question, without hesitation, with ‘no’.

Sleepwalking Toward Armageddon…

ISIL takes Turkey govt. hostage: Terrorists raises flag at Turkish border

From Sam Harris

In his speech responding to the horrific murder of journalist James Foley by a British jihadist, President Obama delivered the following rebuke (using an alternate name for ISIS):

ISIL speaks for no religion… and no faith teaches people to massacre innocents. No just God would stand for what they did yesterday and what they do every single day. ISIL has no ideology of any value to human beings. Their ideology is bankrupt…. we will do everything that we can to protect our people and the timeless values that we stand for. May God bless and keep Jim’s memory. And may God bless the United States of America.

In his subsequent remarks outlining a strategy to defeat ISIS, the President declared:

Now let’s make two things clear: ISIL is not Islamic. No religion condones the killing of innocents, and the vast majority of ISIL’s victims have been Muslim…. ISIL is a terrorist organization, pure and simple. And it has no vision other than the slaughter of all who stand in its way…. May God bless our troops, and may God bless the United States of America.

As an atheist, I cannot help wondering when this scrim of pretense and delusion will be finally burned away—either by the clear light of reason or by a surfeit of horror meted out to innocents by the parties of God. Which will come first, flying cars and vacations to Mars, or a simple acknowledgment that beliefs guide behavior and that certain religious ideas—jihad, martyrdom, blasphemy, apostasy—reliably lead to oppression and murder? It may be true that no faith teaches people to massacre innocentsexactly—but innocence, as the President surely knows, is in the eye of the beholder. Are apostates “innocent”? Blasphemers? Polytheists? Islam has the answer, and the answer is “no.”

Sam Harris’s Vanishing Self…

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From NYT

Sam Harris is a neuroscientist and prominent “new atheist,” who along with others like Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Christopher Hitchens helped put criticism of religion at the forefront of public debate in recent years. In two previous books, “The End of Faith” and “Letter to a Christian Nation,” Harris argued that theistic religion has no place in a world of science. In his latest book, “Waking Up,” his thought takes a new direction. While still rejecting theism, Harris nonetheless makes a case for the value of “spirituality,” which he bases on his experiences in meditation. I interviewed him recently about the book and some of the arguments he makes in it.

Gary Gutting: A common basis for atheism is naturalism — the view that only science can give a reliable account of what’s in the world. But in “Waking Up” you say that consciousness resists scientific description, which seems to imply that it’s a reality beyond the grasp of science. Have you moved away from an atheistic view?

You Don’t Need God to Experience Spirituality…

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From NYT

ALMOST midway through Sam Harris’s new book, “Waking Up,” he paints a scene that will shock many of his fans, who know him as one of the country’s most prominent and articulate atheists.

He describes a walk in Jesus’ footsteps, and the way he was touched by it.

This happened on “an afternoon on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, atop the mount where Jesus is believed to have preached his most famous sermon,” Harris writes. “As I gazed at the surrounding hills, a feeling of peace came over me. It soon grew to a blissful stillness that silenced my thoughts. In an instant, the sense of being a separate self — an ‘I’ or a ‘me’ — vanished.”

Had Harris at last found God? And is “Waking Up” a stop-the-presses admission — an epiphany — that he slumbered and lumbered through the darkness for too long?

Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion…

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From Sam Harris

I once participated in a twenty-three-day wilderness program in the mountains of Colorado. If the purpose of this course was to expose students to dangerous lightning and half the world’s mosquitoes, it was fulfilled on the first day. What was in essence a forced march through hundreds of miles of backcountry culminated in a ritual known as “the solo,” where we were finally permitted to rest—alone, on the outskirts of a gorgeous alpine lake—for three days of fasting and contemplation.

I had just turned sixteen, and this was my first taste of true solitude since exiting my mother’s womb. It proved a sufficient provocation. After a long nap and a glance at the icy waters of the lake, the promising young man I imagined myself to be was quickly cut down by loneliness and boredom. I filled the pages of my journal not with the insights of a budding naturalist, philosopher, or mystic but with a list of the foods on which I intended to gorge myself the instant I returned to civilization. Judging from the state of my consciousness at the time, millions of years of hominid evolution had produced nothing more transcendent than a craving for a cheeseburger and a chocolate milkshake.

Sam Harris: The Problem With Atheism…

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From SAM HARRIS

(This is an edited transcript of a talk given at the Atheist Alliance conference in Washington D.C. on September 28th, 2007)

To begin, I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge just how strange it is that a meeting like this is even necessary. The year is 2007, and we have all taken time out of our busy lives, and many of us have traveled considerable distance, so that we can strategize about how best to live in a world in which most people believe in an imaginary God. America is now a nation of 300 million people, wielding more influence than any people in human history, and yet this influence is being steadily corrupted, and is surely waning, because 240 million of these people apparently believe that Jesus will return someday and orchestrate the end of the world with his magic powers. Of course, we may well wonder whether as many people believe these things as say they do. I know that Christopher [Hitchens] and Richard [Dawkins] are rather optimistic that our opinion polls are out of register with what people actually believe in the privacy of their own minds.  But there is no question that most of our neighbors reliably profess that they believe these things, and such professions themselves have had a disastrous affect on our political discourse, on our public policy, on the teaching of science, and on our reputation in the world. And even if only a third or a quarter of our neighbors believe what most profess, it seems to me that we still have a problem worth worrying about.

Sam Harris: Why Don’t I Criticize Israel?

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From Sam Harris

AUDIO TRANSCRIPT [Note: This is a verbatim transcript of a spoken podcast. However, I have added notes like this one to clarify controversial points.—SH]

The question I’ve now received in many forms goes something like this: Why is it that you never criticize Israel? Why is it that you never criticize Judaism? Why is it that you always take the side of the Israelis over that of the Palestinians?

Now, this is an incredibly boring and depressing question for a variety of reasons. The first, is that I have criticized both Israel and Judaism. What seems to have upset many people is that I’ve kept some sense of proportion. There are something like 15 million Jews on earth at this moment; there are a hundred times as many Muslims.  I’ve debated rabbis who, when I have assumed that they believe in a God that can hear our prayers, they stop me mid-sentence and say, “Why would you think that I believe in a God who can hear prayers?” So there are rabbis—conservative rabbis—who believe in a God so elastic as to exclude every concrete claim about Him—and therefore, nearly every concrete demand upon human behavior. And there are millions of Jews, literally millions among the few million who exist, for whom Judaism is very important, and yet they are atheists. They don’t believe in God at all. This is actually a position you can hold in Judaism, but it’s a total non sequitur in Islam or Christianity.

Sam Harris Absolutely Demolishes Christian Theologian Dr. William Lane Craig…

[Christopher Hitchens allowed Dr. Craig to frame their debate and didn’t fare too well: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4KBx4vvlbZ8

But Sam Harris (above) ignored Dr. Craig’s efforts to control and define… and wiped the floor with him… Especially hilarious is one student’s question near the end… -DS]
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Sam Harris: Morality and the Christian God…


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Sam Harris: What Scientific Idea Is Ready For Retirement? Our Narrow Definition of ‘Science’…


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From Edge.org

Science advances by discovering new things and developing new ideas. Few truly new ideas are developed without abandoning old ones first. As theoretical physicist Max Planck (1858-1947) noted, “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” In other words, science advances by a series of funerals. Why wait that long?

WHAT SCIENTIFIC IDEA IS READY FOR RETIREMENT?
Ideas change, and the times we live in change. Perhaps the biggest change today is the rate of change. What established scientific idea is ready to be moved aside so that science can advance?
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Our Narrow Definition of “Science”

Search your mind, or pay attention to the conversations you have with other people, and you will discover that there are no real boundaries between science and philosophy—or between those disciplines and any other that attempts to make valid claims about the world on the basis of evidence and logic. When such claims and their methods of verification admit of experiment and/or mathematical description, we tend to say that our concerns are “scientific”; when they relate to matters more abstract, or to the consistency of our thinking itself, we often say that we are being “philosophical”

Sam Harris: Morality and the Christian God…



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Just Think: Sam Harris on Bill Maher etc….





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Religion: Response to Critics of A Moral Landscape…


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From SAM HARRIS

Among the many quandaries a writer must face after publishing a controversial book is the question of how, or whether, to respond to criticism. At a minimum, it would seem wise to correct misunderstandings and distortions of one’s views wherever they appear, but one soon discovers that there is no good way of doing this. After my first book was published, the journalist Chris Hedges seemed to make a career out of misrepresenting its contents — asserting, among other calumnies, that somewhere in its pages I call for an immediate, nuclear first-strike on the entire Muslim world. Hedges spread this lie so sedulously that I could have spent the next year writing letters to the editor. Even if I had been willing to squander my time in this way, such letters are generally pointless, as few people read them. In the end, I decided to create a page on my website addressing controversies of this kind, so that I can then forget all about them. The result has been less than satisfying.

Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason…


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From SAM HARRIS

Epilogue from The End of Faith

See also Sam Harris’: Letter to a Christian Nation – Afterword and The End of Faith and the Mystical Experience

My goal in writing this book has been to help close the door to a certain style of irrationality. While religious faith is the one species of human ignorance that will not admit of even the possibility of correction, it is still sheltered from criticism in every corner of our culture. Forsaking all valid sources of information about this world (both spiritual and mundane), our religions have seized upon ancient taboos and prescientific fancies as though they held ultimate metaphysical significance. Books that embrace the narrowest spectrum of political, moral, scientific, and spiritual understanding

The End of Faith and the Mystical Experience…


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From SAM HARRIS
Author of Letter to a Christian Nation

(This is an edited transcript of a talk given at the Atheist Alliance conference in Washington D.C. on September 28th, 2007)

To begin, I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge just how strange it is that a meeting like this is even necessary. The year is 2007, and we have all taken time out of our busy lives, and many of us have traveled considerable distance, so that we can strategize about how best to live in a world in which most people believe in an imaginary God. America is now a nation of 300 million people, wielding more influence than any people in human history, and yet this influence is being steadily corrupted, and is surely waning, because 240 million of these people apparently believe that Jesus will return someday

Letter to a Christian Nation…


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From SAM HARRIS

Letter to a Christian Nation – Afterword

Humanity has had a long fascination with blood sacrifice. In fact, it has been by no means uncommon for a child to be born into this world only to be patiently and lovingly reared by religious maniacs, who believe that the best way to keep the sun on its course or to ensure a rich harvest is to lead him by tender hand into a field or to a mountaintop and bury, butcher, or burn him alive as offering to an invisible God. Countless children have been unlucky enough to be born in so dark an age, when ignorance and fantasy were indistinguishable from knowledge and where the drumbeat of religious fanaticism kept perfect time with every human heart. In fact, almost no culture has been exempt from this evil: the Sumerians, Phoenicians, Egyptians, Hebrews, Canaanites, Maya, Inca, Aztecs, Olmecs, Greeks, Romans, Carthaginians, Teutons, Celts, Druids, Vikings, Gauls, Hindus, Thais, Chinese, Japanese, Scandinavians,